Five members of the Waco Texans youth soccer club are spending the summer brushing up on their Spanish and polishing their playing skills.
They’ve been preparing for the opportunity to travel to Spain July 14-24 to train with pro coaches and play games in Madrid and Barcelona.
“I’m very excited to go to Spain and do all the fun stuff over there,” said Jeremy Bellert. “It will be my first trip overseas and I’ll get to see a new culture outside of America. I do have a book that has Spanish phrases, so I won’t look like a complete idiot over there.”
Waco Texans director Brian Cunningham has been taking local players on European tours for nearly a decade and has seen how much they improve their skills and how thrilled they are to soak in a new culture. After taking players to England the last two years, this will be Cunningham’s first foray to Spain.
“This is an opportunity for them to train with a pro club like Real Madrid and see how they do things and what it takes to play at that level,” Cunningham said. “Young kids have aspirations. They all want to be professional soccer players and play in college. This is a really good chance for them to see how they do it in different parts of the world.”
Cunningham chooses the top players from the Waco Texans for each trip. The five players traveling to Spain range from ages 12 to 16 and include Miller Cunningham, Gino Del Vecchio, Tyler Johnston, Reagan Shero and Bellert.
They’ll join other players from SuperClubs teams across the United States and will play on teams that include 14 to 15 players in their own age groups. They’ll train with pro coaches in Madrid and Barcelona and play four games against Spanish teams.
“There’s a couple of things I look for in identifying players,” Cunningham said. “Are they physically capable and mentally can they compete at this level? It’s very intense. There’s a lot of players in our program and I wish I could send them all. Unfortunately there’s only a select few who get this honor.”
The youngest member of the Waco contingent is 12-year-old Miller Cunningham. But he’s also a veteran since he went on the tour to England last year.
“From what we did last year I’m thrilled to go,” Cunningham said. “Last year was really fun to train with their coaches. In Spain we’ll train with Real Madrid soccer coaches, so I’m hoping to learn a lot.”
Johnston is the only girl making the trip from Waco, so she’ll be playing with a whole new set of teammates. But she’s already staying in touch with them and learning what skills they’ll bring to the table.
“We started a group chat on the phone, so I’ve been meeting some of the other girls from all over the country who are going,” Johnston said. “I’ve gotten to know who they are and how they play. I like meeting new people. Since I heard the news I’ve just been packing slowly and really waiting for this trip because it’s a great opportunity to get better at soccer.”
Though the Waco players are looking forward to experiencing the Spanish culture, they’re also anxious to go through some intense training sessions on the soccer field with the Spanish coaches. They’re not looking at the trip as a vacation. They want to be pushed to improve their skill level.
“Training is going to be a lot harder than most of us are used to because it’s different up there,” Shero said. “We grow up with football and other people grow up with soccer. I hope to improve on everything I can. I want to make the best of my opportunities while I’m there so I can get better.”
Playing against Spanish teams will give the Waco players a chance to learn different styles.
“I hope to gain better experience and learn some stuff from coaches and players,” Del Vecchio said. “I’m just curious to see how it is compared to this environment. It will make me play against different playing styles instead of the same old ones. I have to adjust and adapt and get used to it.”
Cunningham said the Waco players have performed well on past European trips and he expects the same on this tour.
“We’re very competitive when we go over,” Cunningham said. “Typically we find the younger kids have more success. When they get a little bit older the competition’s a lot tougher. They’re specialized at a very young age and soccer is their main sport. They don’t have baseball, basketball and football like we have here. But we’ve been successful and have done well. We’ve taken some beatings but it’s been a lot of fun.”